There is no Christmas this year in my country my friend - #DRC

2016-12-21 11:15
A man is arrested by a member of the military police after people attempted to block the road with rocks, in the neighbourhood of Majengo in Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. (AFP)

A man is arrested by a member of the military police after people attempted to block the road with rocks, in the neighbourhood of Majengo in Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. (AFP)

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Johannesburg - "We are at war with Kabila – he doesn't want to go."

These are the first words that greet me as I call an old friend in Kinshasa.

She is terrified. Gunshots keep ringing as we talk. I can’t hear them but in hushed tones she repeatedly says: "Can you hear them? They have been ringing since yesterday."

No one will dare go outside. She is even afraid of standing on the balcony. Her curtains are closed. She just wants to keep her three children safe.

She has moved nearer to the posh side of Kinshasa – hoping that being in the vicinity of diplomats, the government ministers and the presidential palace will give her an armour of protection. 

But it is not helping much.  A muffled explosion was heard in the area called Gombe.

Soldiers and police have been deployed across the city and security barricades have been set up to search for those brave enough to venture outside. Reports say soldiers and police on the streets are outnumbering passers-by.

"There is no Christmas this year in my country my friend," she says.

Latest developments 

The most frustrating for the Congolese is that the world can’t even see the tyranny they are living under.

Access to the internet is limited. They can’t access social media, including Twitter and Facebook. They can still send messages via WhatsApp but they can’t send or download videos or pictures.

Shutting down the internet has become the hallmark of dictators or those determined to silence the people, taking notes from the Arab spring that saw the revolution organised via social media.

Congolese are on a knife edge, and so should the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the rest of the continent and the world.

DRC

Picture: AFP

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has never seen a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium.  It has also seen the deadliest conflict on the continent, with two wars that left more than three million dead and dragged in at least six African countries.                        

The latest developments threaten the progress the country has been making since the it returned to some semblance of peace and relative stability over the past decade. Landing into Kinshasa airport, you are greeted by a modern airport - a sign that the country had started making progress. Even freeways that lead to the city centre bear testimony to a country that was slowly trying to leave its painful past behind.

More dangerous  

Opposition leaders have upped their ante against what they call an "illegitimate" leader.

The former ally, who now heads the biggest opposition to President Joseph Kabila, Moise Katumba has called for the central African country leader to relinquish power. Katumbi remains exiled from the DRC after the government charged him with fraud - a charge his supporters maintain is politically motivated. 

DRC

Picture: AFP

Another veteran leader, Ettienne Tshisekedi is determined to fight off Kabila’s attempts to stay in power.

And as another friend summed it up:  "JK (Joseph Kabila) has to leave otherwise the situation will become more and more dangerous."

But there are no signs of the 45-year-old Kabila bowing out. Instead, he seems to want to cling to power at all costs, adding his name to the long list of Africa’s strong men. He is not holding on to power by old tried and tested means that includes rigging the elections or changing the constitution or even holding a sham of a referendum.

His neighbours starting from the one across the river, Denis Sasso Nguesso of the other Congo, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza have all done one of the above already.

But Kabila is doing it his own style, by delaying the elections despite a strong push by opposition parties for the country to hold its third democratic polls.

Dialogue 

The excuses to delay the polls and extend his stay in power have been plenty – from the need to hold a census in the close to 80 million people country first, lack of money to the need to register all new voters.

He was emboldened by a recent constitutional court order that allowed him to continue until his successor is chosen. 

Until now the region has remained silent, appearing to be watching at a distant but helpless to whip one of their own in line.

Even the September clashes between the police and protesters over the deepening political crisis did not get a reaction from the continent.

DRC

Picture: AFP

South Africa that helped usher peace by ending the bloody civil war has issued a statement urging all parties to come to the negotiating table.

Pretoria was key in organising dialogue among the Congolese. However its reluctance to get actively involved could be as a result of the anti-Pretoria sentiment that took hold in the 2011 when it was seen by the opposition to be backing Kabila’s "rigged" elections.

South Africa had printed the ballots and transported them to the inaccessible parts of the DRC.It also says it supports efforts undertaken by African Union facilitator Edem Kodjo.

But for now with Kabila firmly still in control, the mediation scheduled for December 21 hold little hope for Congolese, angered by the soldiers on the streets.

So as the world watches the potentially richest country on the continent face an uncertain future, hope of a peaceful Christmas is dwindling for my friend holed up in the house – listening in fear to the gunshots ringing in the streets.

Read more on:    joseph kabila  |  drc  |  central africa

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